I’ve only very recently begun to try to identify dragonflies and damselflies. This new found interest was entirely due to the relative plethora of the things at our local Sandhouse Lane Nature Reserve. On the left is one of the first I spotted. I had no idea what it was but I snapped it and hurried home, metaphorically speaking, to identify it. In my book, Insects of Britain and Western Europe by Michael Chinery, I spotted a diagram that looked similar. It was a diagram of a female Keeled Skimmer. Excellent! In my mind, my new found friend became a female Keeled Skimmer.
On a subsequent visit I was excited to discover further different species such as those on the right. Although there are several superficially similar red-bodied species, I was pretty sure that this was a male Common Darter. When in doubt, settle on the common. On that visit I was also fortunate enough to witness a pair of Common Darters mating, joined in what is apparently termed the Copulation Wheel, I was happy with my new found interest.
After my third or fourth visit a concern formed in my mind. The concern turned to serious doubt. A male Keeled Skimmer has a relatively broad light blue abdomen according to my field guide. Whilst I hadn’t seen anything resembling such a thing here, I was happy to believe I had female Keeled Skimmers. Furthermore, though I had witnessed mating pairs of Common Darters, other than those that were inverted in a Copulation Wheel and thus difficult to see, I hadn’t actually identified anything as being a female Common Darter, either. Very suspicious! Not only very suspicious but such a state of affairs would do nothing at all for the great Mr. Darwin’s cause. We can’t go having dragonfly immaculate conception now, can we? No, that would never do.
A swift trawl of the Internet found a few photos of female Common Darters. Ah ha! Just as I had begun to suspect, my female “Keeled Skimmer” was, in fact, most likely to be a female Common Darter. Normality restored, mating may continue and species may go forth and multiply.
The trouble is my field guide is particularly weak on females. It is very happy to show the males in all their normally colourful glory but it tends to steer clear of the females. Only a few females are shown. The females, it appears, can be quite similar to the untrained eye and mine is certainly untrained.
I did snap a couple of dainty damselflies that still completely elude me. I have no idea what these two are, though I have suspicions concerning one. I’ve even emailed them off to the British Dragonfly Society to see if the experts will help me out. I’m wondering if they might be immature specimens with colours not yet fully formed. I’ve heard nothing back yet.
Clearly, I need a better field guide.